Castelsardo is located inside the Asinara Gulf and was founded by the Genoese Doria family, who originally called it “Castel Genovese”. It is included in the “100 Most Beautiful Italian Villages” chart and, thanks to the beautiful beaches and cityscape it offers, there is no wonder why.
The castle (castello) that gives the name to the village is still in perfect conditions after almost a thousand years and overlooks the whole city, the gulf, and the harbor; moreover, it is still possible to see it and is home to one of the most visited museums in Sardinia, the Museo dell’Intreccio Mediterraneo, where traditionally-weaved baskets and other artifacts are displayed to the public.
As usual when talking about Sardinian tourist destinations, the fun doesn’t stop within the city limits: there is plenty of fun activities to do outside it as well, from relaxing on a heavenly beach to exploring some more historical sites.
Read this post if you want to know more about this wonderful place!
A Brief History Of Castelsardo
Although there are numerous remains tracing back to the Nuragic and Roman eras, the city was officially founded either in 1102 AC or 1270 AC (the historians can’t agree on the foundation date, but more recent hints point towards the second one).
Despite this small but significant disagreement, it is known that the original core of this village was the Doria Castle where, as it was common in the middle ages, feudal lords and their entourage lived, surrounded by their workers’ houses, all inside the castle’s fortifications.
The city has been, during the centuries, owned by the Genoese, two Giudicati (Eleonora d’Arborea lived there for some time as well as she was married to Brancaleone Doria), the Aragonese, and, in the end, the Savoy family.
Make sure to read my post A Brief History Of Sardinia.
What To See And Do In Castelsardo
The Doria Castle
The first thing to do in Castelsardo is, indeed, visiting its symbol: the Doria Castle. As I previously said, it has now been converted into a museum where you will be able to see various items weaved with traditional techniques from all around the Mediterranean Basin.
The fortress still keeps its original shape as there has never been any demolition and rebuilding, but only reinforcements to survive the wars. From the hill the castle lays on, you can see the whole Asinara Gulf, the city, and, when the weather is clear, you can even catch a glimpse of Corsica.
Admission to the museum is €3. The museum is open daily but opening times vary throughout the year. From May 2 to June 30 and from September 1 to September 30 the museum is open from 9:30 am to 9:30 pm. During July and August, the museum open from 9:00 am to 12:30 am. Audio-guides are available.
Another important thing in most medieval villages is the churches, and Castelsardo is no exception. The two most notable ones are the Concattedrale di Sant’Antonio Abate and Santa Maria delle Grazie church.
The Concattedrale is located right in front of the sea, in a very panoramic spot. Its style is a mixture of Catalan Gothic and Italian Renaissance Classicism. The most sight-worthy items and relics inside are the frescos painted by Andrea Lusso; the altarpiece representing Mary and Baby Jesus; and the pipe organ from the 1700s, which is considered the most beautiful pipe organ in Sardinia.
Inside the church there are the cryps and a small museum -Maestro di Castelsardo.
The bell tower was not specifically built for the church, but added from the defensive walls, and was first used as a lighthouse.
Santa Maria delle Grazie church, which has been the Cathedral for three centuries before giving up its role to Sant’Antonio Church, is maybe even prettier and surely more history-filled, as it was built in the 1300s and has been the head of a unique tradition, the Lunissanti procession (more about it in a bit).
The most important relic in this church is the so-called Cristo Nero (Black Christ), a wooden crucifix that got its name thanks to the black wood (juniper) it is made of.
A Stroll Around Town
Many locals recommend a casual stroll in the city center so that you can feel fully immersed in this beautiful place’s atmosphere: as you walk, you will see the traditional baskets I mentioned before hanging outside the houses, because they are a popular decoration all around Sardinia; some civil buildings that are still used nowadays, such as the Palazzo Eleonora d’Arborea (now the city Major’s headquarters) and the La Loggia Palace (now the City Hall).
You will also admire the city’s old fortifications and the 17 watchtowers built by the Aragonese to keep Castelsardo (back then called Castel Aragonese) safe.
You should also stop by Piazza del Novecentenario: this pretty square was inaugurated in 2012 to celebrate the 900 years from the foundation of the village.
Lastly, enjoy the permanent exhibition “Stregoneria, Eresia e Santa Inquisizione” held at Palazzo Episcopale: it’s very well curated and a must-go for whoever is interested in the Spanish Inquisition and its history.
An Ape Calessino Tour
Calessino tours are a great way to explore Castelsardo if you are short on time. You will find these tuk-tuk like vehicles parked below the historic center. A short ride normally costs €5 per person and takes you to a couple of viewpoints; a longer tour is in the range of €20 per person and lasts about one hour, taking you to the best panoramic spots and dropping you off at the castle where you can continue exploring.
If you wish to have an English speaking guide, get in touch with Nicolas at +393701057562.
A Hike Along The Coast
The coast right below the historic center of Castelsardo is lined with a nice trail that offers incredible views. You can walk the length of the trail from the wooden bridge, located in the Citadel, or just bits of it. Though it seems quite long and steep, I can assure you it is completely doable and the perfect way to spend a morning (or an afternoon) during spring or fall.
The Holy Week and Lunissanti
The celebrations for the week before Easter is an essential – and unique – ensemble of rites. They take place every year, starting with the aforementioned Lunissanti (Holy Monday) and finishing with the Holy Friday, when Christ is put down the Cross.
These rites mix Christian elements with Pagan ones and trace back to the times when the villagers celebrated the Spring’s arrival and the new farming season.
The Lunissanti procession has Catalan influences as well. It starts from the Santa Maria Church with a Mass celebrated at dawn; then, the members of the Confraternita (a private religious circle, the only ones allowed to celebrate this rite and touch the relics) start their walk towards the Nostra Signora di Tergu Abbey, while chanting and praying, carrying items that symbolize Christ’s passion (called Misteri).
Once it reaches the Monastero di Tergu (outside the city, but worth a visit!), the big crowd that follows the procession stops and enjoys a community lunch, singing and starting the less religious celebration for the new, warmer season.
After this event, the procession starts again, with the same itinerary but backward, ending in Santa Maria Church around twilight.
Make sure to read my post The Best Easter Celebrations In Sardinia.
Castelsardo isn’t that big of a place, so you will probably be able to visit some close attractions during your stay.
The most fascinating place to see outside Castelsardo is probably the Roccia dell’Elefante, an elephant-shaped rock that has become a hot photo spot among tourists.
Nuraghe Paddaiu and Ipogeo di Scala Coperta
If you are looking for the earliest signs of human presence in the area, I recommend you visit the Nuraghe Paddaju, which still has its main tower standing in great shape, and the Ipogeo di Scala Coperta, a very unique Domus de Janas.
Torre di Frigianu
If you don’t want to leave the city surroundings, you could go for a walk in the harbor and see the Torre di Frigianu, built by the Aragonese in the XVI century to protect their land from the pirates. The tower was almost immediately ruined because of the tides and saltwater and was rebuilt in the late XX century, now protected by the new harbor’s dam.
The Best Beaches In Castelsardo And Surroundings
The following are the best beaches in Castelsardo and nearby.
Spiaggia La Marina
Located inside Castelsardo, despite not having the most crystal clear waters it’s surrounded by cliffs and has a sandy, low shore that makes it a safe place for kids and less skilled swimmers As it is the “city beach”you will have all the services you need: parking, nearby restaurants and the like.
Spiaggia Lu Bagnu
Very famous among tourists, its emerald-like waters won’t disappoint you. The beach is a mix of sandy dunes and small pebbles, and it isn’t uncommon to meet some surfers, who love the waves of this windy part of the sea. There is a parking lot only five minutes away.
Spiaggia San Pietro
18 kms away from Castelsardo, this beach is famous because of the pretty shells on its shore and its clean water. (But mind you – shells are to be left on the beach, or you’ll get fined!)
Another surfing hot spot, it even hosts a national competition in August. You can get there in about 25 minutes via SS Castelsardo – Santa Teresa.
This beach is the last of my suggestions and is a more private beach that’s often called “The Lovers’ Beach” thanks to its conformation. It is, in fact, located inside an inlet that gifts the place both with an intimate atmosphere and with always calm and safe waters.
Practical Information To Plan Your Visit
How to get to Castelsardo
First of all, I recommend renting a car for your trip to Sardinia. Having said that, here’s how to get to Castelsardo.
FROM ALGHERO: Take SS 291 to Sassari, then SS 131 to Porto Torres, and SS 200 to Castelsardo. If you land at Alghero-Fertilia airport, they also provide a shuttle service but ONLY DURING THE SUMMER MONTHS.
FROM OLBIA: Take SS 125 to Palau and then to Santa Teresa di Gallura and Castelsardo; or, you can choose the inner path, taking SS 127 to Tempio Pausania, then Aggius, Valle della Luna, Viddalba, and Castelsardo. I’d recommend the first itinerary unless you want to have a taste of the wild mountain views of North Sardinia.
FROM SASSARI: Take SS 131 to Porto Torres, then SS 200 to Castelsardo.
Where To Sleep
Albeit small, Castelsardo has a few good places to sleep. I have looked for the best ones for you:
Hotel Baga Baga: Located only two kms away from Castelsardo, this hotel offers some great panoramic views and is one of the most upvoted and loved by travelers.
Hotel Residence Ampurias: 2 kms away from the city, this hotel is located right in front of Lu Bagnu beach, making it a very hot place for sunbathing lovers!
Janus Hotel: Right in the city center and overlooking the Asinara Gulf, tourists and locals love this place – and for a good reason!
Where To Eat
Of course, since Castelsardo stands directly next to the sea, expect a lot of seafood-based dishes. Here are some nice places recommended by both tourists and locals:
Il Cormorano: right below the historic center of town, this is one of the most famous local restaurants. Expect to eat delicious dishes of fresh homemade pasta with lots of seafood, and fresh fish dishes.
L’incantu: located in a panoramic spot on the seaside, it is well known and appreciated for its menu and service. The price for a full meal is around 40€/person.
Roccaja: this one is located slightly outside the city, and is, therefore, mostly popular among locals. Its menu isn’t limited to seafood dishes and offers some other traditional Sardinian food as well. The price for a full meal is around 30€/person.
Il Fuco: another excellent restaurant on the seaside, it caters to both locals and tourists and having a full meal requires around 30€/person as well.
Trattoria Pizzeria da Maria Giuseppa: this place is located in the city center and serves pizzas, meat, and fish courses. The prices are very affordable as well (average of 28€/person).
Ristorante Rocca Ja: located on a scenic cliff with a view of the Asinara Gulf, this restaurant offers both meat-based and fish-based dishes at affordable prices (around 30€/person).
Did I manage to make you curious about this splendid Sardinian city? I can assure you, you will never regret visiting it.
Make sure to read my posts:
- A Complete Guide To Alghero
- A Quick Guide To Bosa
- A Short Guide To Sassari
- The Best Itinerary For North Sardinia
- A Quick Guide To Santa Teresa Di Gallura
- The Nicest Small Towns In Sardinia
- A Complete Guide To La Maddalena